At the tender age of 18, many already identify themselves as adults, or as their first passage into adulthood. However, a theory by psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, PhD, suggests otherwise. He proposes that there is an ambiguous period called emerging adulthood when those between the ages of 18-25 go through a stage of development that is far from adolescence but at the same time, is not young adulthood either.
Emerging adulthood is a phase when young people are leaving their childhood and adolescence, progressing into adults in whom responsibilities are more amplified and beginning to discover their directions in life. For these emerging adults, it is crucial to choose and follow the best path in terms of love, worldviews and career in order to shape themselves for their futures. While finding one’s identity is common during adolescence, Arnett argues that identity exploration is more prominent in emerging adulthood. In 2004, Arnett conducted interviews and surveys across the United States, and the main criteria for reaching complete adulthood as cited by the majority were financial independency, ensuring full self-responsibility and making individualistic decisions. As these aims are not instantly reached when one emerges from adolescence, Arnett reiterates that emerging adults only begin to truly embrace adulthood when they are further into their mid- to late twenties.
Arnett (2004) describes this period as an extension of the maturing process. According to him, personal development is more important to these emerging adults than financial or professional advancement. Thus, young people tend to perceive becoming an adult as demise to enjoyment and an end to various possibilities in exchange for financial stability ; general security. These perceptions are what contribute to the search for their identity throughout this period of their lives.
He (2004) specifies five elements of the emerging adulthood period that is, the age of identity exploration, the age of instability, the age of the most self-focus, the age of feeling-in-between, and the age of possibilities. The first element describes emerging adults recognizing their own identities followed by making decisions in terms of love, education, career and worldviews. The second reviews constant and frequent changes in one’s life, such as moving away from home, starting college and living with a partner or friends. In the third element, these young people are in the phase of attaining their goals, discovering their interests, and exploring the world without being bound to their parents.
The fourth element highlights the struggles of emerging adults trying to cope with the “real world” while not being fully prepared to leave their adolescence. Finally the fifth suggests optimism, where one has hopes and opportunities to grow and change their lives.Arnett (2004) also explains that back in the day, for example in 1970s, young people had a significantly faster pace of life and it was normal for a 21-year-old to have already wed and settle down with a family. However, in this millennial generation, many of those enduring decisions are only made later on in their mid- to late twenties, not surprisingly exceeding their thirties as well.